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The Heartland of the Ordinary

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It was the sort of early morning I loved, with the cold night air still burning in my lungs as the sky lightened. The pre-dawn light had turned the world a pale blue as I ran.

The sun was just rising as I turned into the sunken lane past Dart Hall, and it lit the facade with a golden glow. The lane was softer underfoot. I slowed to a jog, conscious of the rain earlier in the week, and listened to Mr. Dart’s ducks grumbling at one another.

There was an emphatic quack and then Mr. Dart’s voice. “I say! Why not? You– Oh! Mr. Greenwing.”

He was still in his shirtsleeves at this time of the morning, I discovered, and promptly tripped over a root. “Mr. Dart.” I stopped, the better to catch my balance. “Good morning, Mr. Dart.”

“Good morning, Mr. Greenwing. On your way to the bookstore?” Mr. Dart stood at the side of the lane looking down at me while his ducks poured down into the lane by his feet.

I grinned back. “It’s an inventory day. Mrs. Etaris said I would only get in the way.”

The sun was high enough now that even here, in the sunken lane and under the trees, it was daylight.

“Free to spend the whole day running about Ragnor Bella then, Mr. Greenwing?”

There was a note of something in his voice, and I was reminded of the admission of his deeply-hidden envy. I stepped carefully towards him through the ducks and offered, “I was going to see if there was any way you could make use of me today.”

It sounded more fun than locking myself away in my rooms, at least.

That was wrong. It sounded delightful to spend the whole day with Mr. Dart.

Mr. Dart’s grin invited me in on the joke. “Well, it’s our inventory day too, Jemis. The last ewe lambed last night. Would you like to help us sort through them? It’s muddy, grubby work, and you will inevitably end up covered in lanolin, but you’ll also get to play with the lambs. I’ve clothes you can borrow.”

Mr. Dart had dropped in on my work often enough since I came home, and I kicked myself now for never thinking to return the favor. Perhaps he wouldn’t have accepted either, earlier in the fall.

I accepted a hand out of the lane and followed Mr. Dart into the Hall.


Mr. Dart hadn’t been lying about the work. His brother’s land had two hundred ewes on it, and today most of them had been gathered, along with one to three lambs apiece. We weren’t working alone – there were several pens, each with their own workers catching lambs and ewes, trimming hooves and docking tails and drenching [1] the lot of them while checking them for any signs of problems – but we had our hands full with the pen we were assigned.

The air was full of the calls of panicked lambs and angry ewes and workers shouting back and forth.

Mr. Dart and I settled into a rhythm fast enough. Mr. Dart wasn’t as quick as I was, but he had the knack of turning the ewes over and holding them between his knees while he held up each leg in turn for me to trim carefully. Then I would drench the ewe, and he would look her over while I grabbed her lambs. Though the scent of lanolin, spicy and warm, filled the air, I wasn’t sneezing. I was grateful for that.

There was something in the work not unlike running. It was rhythmic work, the dodge and catch and pull and then the grabbing of the knife for the hooves and the drench, and then dodging and catching again. I could feel it in my back and in my shoulders; I was going to be pleasantly tired tonight.

Unlike running, which had been a solitary activity for me until recently (which was solitary still unless I came across Mr. Dart or the Honourable Rag out riding and they rode along with me – though that did admittedly happen more often these days) this was exertion towards a common good and surrounded with perhaps a dozen others working towards the same common goal.

When it began to drizzle, I paused and stood to stretch my back. The pens were slowly emptying as the sheep we finished with were wrestled out of gates and back onto the pastures. A couple of pens had dogs helping to round up the last few. Others were using crooks, or just cornering the sheep the way we were.

Master Dart and his daughter were working in the pen next to ours, and as I watched, Jullanar Maebh tackled a ewe that was about to evade her again and then dragged both herself and the sheep back to their feet, one hand under the sheep’s chin to keep her from leaving. Mr. Dart let the lamb he was holding into the pasture with her mother and siblings and glanced over at me from the gate. “What are you thinking, Mr. Greenwing?”

I smiled over at him. “Mr. Dart. Only that perhaps whatever is between Roald and your niece makes sense, since I do believe she could keep him in line if she wanted to.”

“Perish the thought. Can you imagine the Honourable Rag at family dinners?” Mr. Dart’s voice was full of rueful humor. “You’d have to accept my invitations more often, Jemis. I would need support.”

I twisted my spine in the other direction and agreed. “Or you would have to drop by mine. Then neither of us– although if they do end up” – I waved a hand as expressively as I could – “I want to see the Honourable Rag’s face when he realizes that he’s your nephew-in-law.”

“Neither of us what?” Mr. Dart’s face pursed.

I lifted one shoulder in a silent apology. “That way we get the benefit of better company without enduring Roald.”

Mr. Dart looked like he was trying not to laugh now, and I silently congratulated myself on fixing whatever I had blundered into.

“Are you ready to keep going?” Mr. Dart asked.

In answer, I walked towards the nearest cluster of ewes.


Though Master Dart invited me to stay for dinner, Mr. Dart and I caught each other’s eye and laughed and excused ourselves to mine instead.

It was a companionable walk into town together.

The night was clear and crisp and springlike, and both of us had bathed and were in clean clothes once more. The silence was companionable and broken occasionally by a quiet joke or observation.

We were nearly in town when Mr. Dart leaned his shoulder against mine and jostled our linked arms. “Thank you. For coming today. You didn’t need to pitch in, but it was more fun this way.”

I jostled his arm back. “I was happy to. I had fun. Thank you for coming to keep me company tonight.” I cleared my throat.

Mr. Dart snorted. “As if I could have sat at the table and kept a straight face when I could see you imagining my new nephew-in-law Roald Ragnor next to my niece.”

I cracked up.

Mr. Dart gave me a friendly shove towards my door. “I hope you’ve got food enough to feed us both. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked up an appetite.”


In the kitchen, we quickly settled into a rhythm. Though Mr. Dart wasn’t as used to cooking as I, he was as capable as anyone of chopping whatever I put in front of him. He didn’t even need magic if the chopping was coarse enough that he could steady the vegetable with his marble hand, though he was, I was glad to observe, comfortable enough with his magic and with me to use it anyway.

When I finally set the dish into the oven to bake and led the way to the chairs, Mr. Dart hesitated. “Shouldn’t we– I don’t know, keep an eye on it?”

I laughed and pushed him ahead of me and into the nearest chair, where he sprawled theatrically. “Mr. Dart, I have a secret to share with you.”

He sat up immediately and leaned forward, elbows on his knees and a smile on his face to match my own energy.

“I learned this in the kitchens at Morrowlea. Once the food gets on the plate, even if it was once inclined to walk off, it is no longer at that point.” I pointed dramatically at the oven. “The carrots you sliced are past their walking days.”

Mr. Dart cackled and I relaxed back into my own chair.

The windows were still cracked from that morning and there was a gentle breeze coming in. I leaned back into my chair and felt my muscles relax a little bit more. Mr. Dart, across from me, made eye contact and smiled gently at me. Powderpuff the kitten skittered out across the floor and under his chair and then reached out and wrapped both front legs around his socked foot.

He reached down and lifted her carefully to eye level, where he began what might have been an impressive lecture on the ills of trying to steal other people’s feet, had she not reached out and bopped him on the nose with one velvet-padded paw.

I swallowed against a sudden flood of tears in my throat and, at Mr. Dart’s concerned look, shook my head. “I’m just – grateful – to have a day off from–” I waved a hand. “Dragons and prisons and ritual sacrifice, and to still spend it with you.”

Mr. Dart smiled, and stretched the foot Powderpuff had tried to claim and tapped it on my knee. “I’m glad to have spent it with you too. Perhaps they were also holding inventory day today and realized how many adventures have been going to you lately. Maybe they’ll send one or two to someone else instead.”

I smiled, helplessly. “Perhaps the Honourable Rag can win your niece’s heart with a bit of dragon-slaying.”

Mr. Dart snorted. “Considering how long it took her to warm up to you, I doubt very much that anything could induce my niece to marry someone who had touched an adventure like that.”

The light was dying outisde, and the scent of our dinner was beginning to color the air. I leaned back in my seat, and asked Mr. Dart about the magic he used to do his buttons in the morning, and let the flow of his words settle around me.

1Drenching is the act of giving a sheep (or other farm animal, though I’ve mostly heard it in relation to sheep) a dewormer. The noun “drench” is then the dewormer applicator.[return to text]